fortune tellers

UFT predicts small gains ahead of next week's test score release

Schools won’t know for sure how their students performed on last spring’s state tests until next week, but that hasn’t stopped the teachers union’s speculation.

The United Federation of Teachers jumped into the prediction game on Friday with a five-page memo that forecasts a small overall improvement in both math and English scores.

Last year, 29 percent of city students who took the tests were deemed proficient in math and 26 percent were proficient in English, one-year drops of 30 and 20 points, respectively. The steep plunge was widely anticipated because of new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.

The UFT’s “reasonable guess” for this year is that proficiency rates will jump by two points in reading and writing, to 28 percent, and three points in math, to 33 percent. It attributes that to teachers having greater familiarity with the tests and having a full year with appropriate curriculum materials.

But the union also suggests that politics could play a heavy hand in the results as well.

State education officials have been under heavy criticism because of last year’s test scores and they now have “a strong interest in showing improvement after coming under sustained fire,” union officials wrote. (A panel of teachers, administrators and professors set the passing scores and Commissioner John King can either accept or reject their recommendations.) Too big of an improvement, however, “would suggest manipulation,” union officials write.

King has accepted the panel’s recommendations for the past two years and defended the cut-scoring process, as it’s known, as more transparent than before he took over as schools chief. State education officials declined to comment on UFT’s memo.

The union’s “backgrounder” emails ahead of test score releases are a recurring tradition, but this year’s toned-down version reflects both the City Hall’s close relationship with the union and the fact that this year’s tests won’t see such dramatic drops, unlike last year when the Common Core-aligned exams made their debut.

Last year, the UFT used the expected drops to slam the education legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who consistently said his job performance should be judged by student achievement data. (New York City ended up outperforming many other districts.)

*State officials raised the bar for "proficient" means.    ** New Common Core-aligned tests.   *** UFT's forecast for 2013-2014 scores.
*State officials raised the bar for “proficient” means. ** New Common Core-aligned tests. *** UFT’s forecast for 2013-2014 scores.

“More Bad News Likely for Bloomberg,” the UFT’s 2013 headline read.

For this year’s tests, which came in the middle of a school year that straddled a mayoral transition from Bloomberg to Bill de Blasio, the union is taking a decidedly more measured tone. Its headline this year read “State Test Results Forecast.”

The tests have decidedly lower stakes than in previous years. In New York City, students won’t be made to repeat a grade primarily because of their testing performance, while most teachers and principals won’t be negatively impacted on evaluations as a result of their students’ scores.

The UFT isn’t the only education stakeholder readying their constituencies for the imminent release of the test scores.

The state teachers union announced on Friday that it would be demonstrating outside the State Education Department building in “protest against privatization.” In their crosshairs is testing giant Pearson, which has a $32 million contract with the state to create the grades three through eight math and English exams.

Schools are also bracing for the results, although principals this week downplayed the scrutiny. Emolior Academy Principal Derick Spaulding said that he’s hoping that higher scores will naturally follow another year of working with the Common Core.

“When they’re given any assessment, they should do relatively well by default because they’re already addressing a lot of what Common Core is asking them to do,” Spaulding said.

“I just hope that my kids show growth and that’s the main thing,” Anne Marie Malcolm, of the School of Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In past years, Bloomberg battled the union’s attempts to interpret the test scores in their favor. This year, a city spokeswoman did not comment directly on the union’s takeaways.


School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede